The week of juggling

Undertaking an international postdoc is the goal for many lucky PhD graduates. In fact, it is often seen as the only way to progress your career.

Meeting researchers from different countries, learning different methods, getting in touch with the international community and applying your Australian experience to a new area (whether that is geographically or varying your field of expertise) is important career stuff. A friend once told me that doing an international postdoc was like doing a PhD all over again, there was so much to take in. Now that I’m here, I completely agree. It’s rewarding, tiring, overwhelming and inspiring all at once.

But what about the non-career related opportunities that an international job placement holds? The chance to learn a new language, experience a different culture, eat new food and travel to exotic locations. These features are often promoted when advertising international postdoc positions, but how do you fit them in while doing well at your hard-earned job?Read More »


The week of supervision

Supervision is one of the most important aspect of a PhD. How you make it through the woods of the doctoral canditure depends so much on the company you keep along the way.

Ideally, a supervisor should hold your hand at first, providing you sustanance (in the form of papers to read and suggestions) and support to get you started. Little by little, the supervisor should let you wander on your own, make your own mistakes and learn from your experiences, but still be there to help and provide timely advice.

By the end, you need to be able to let go, strong enough to direct yourself, and ultimately make your way out of the woods on your own.Read More »

The week my parents were here

Yesterday we waved goodbye to our second set of Aussie visitors, my dear parentals. It’s a bit strange when you grow up, and you are supposed to be an adult, and you realise that your Mum and Dad don’t know everything, like how to order a coffee in Spanish, or the direction of the train station.

But on the other hand, it’s great fun when you grow up and realise that your parents can travel with the best of them, and that they enjoy cava (Spanish bubbles) just as much as you do.

This post could easily be a sob story about how seeing my parents made me feel more homesick than I have done so far on this adventure. Skype is one thing, but it’s sad not knowing when I will catch up with them again in person.

And I could easily write this post as a love letter to Spain in the spring: travelling with the family gave us a chance to experience warm Madrid nights, floral Valencian days and the delightful green countryside of Castile-La Mancha.

But to keep it local, here is the second edition of Things To Do in Tortosa When You Have Guests! If you remember, the first issue was full of suggestions for activities that are cheap, cheerful, and close to town.  For this round you will need a car, which you can hire here, or much more cheaply in Tarragona or Reus, if you are coming that way.

Visit the Delta

About 25 minutes out of Tortosa is the flat expanse of Delta del Ebro. Beaches, bike paths, towers, and nearly more than 7,500 hectares of ever-changing rice paddies are key features of this unique landscape. At this time of year, the rice fields are flooded and rice is being sown, making it a glorious place to spend the afternoon (the “afternoon” here being from 4pm until 8:30pm at the moment).

The real stars of the Delta, however, are the flamingos. The pink croquet mallets have even made into the Lonely Planet as a Top Site in Catalonia! Last Friday we criss-crossed the area in search of the lanky fellows, and were not disappointed.

We spied some in Llaguna de la Tancada, El Clot, and luckiest of all, a fly-over at the end of Playa del Trabucador, a small strip of beach that gives the Delta its bottom “fin” (map here). So lucky! I’m sure there are plenty of other good places for spotting as well, but we had a pretty fun time.

Flying flamingos! Look at how pink they are!
Flamingos dining in the foreground with Serra de Montsià in the background. I recommend zooming in on this picture for maximum flamingo-age.

Hike Els Ports

This book and this website are slowly opening up the Els Ports Nature Park for us, helping us to explore the dramatic mountain range that frames my walk to work every day. We did a couple of short walks with Mum and Dad: one through Els Estrets, an incredible gorge that is home to nesting vultures (!!) and crystal blue water, and one to La Barcina, a peak near Mont Caro, the highest point of Els Ports. We even spotted an ibex, Catalonia’s horned mountain goat!

Ibex, Catalonia's endangered mountain goat, spotted in Els Ports.
Ibex, Catalonia’s endangered mountain goat, spotted in Els Ports.
Looking up at almost too impressive Els Ports.

Follow the Ebro

Further up the Ebro River from Tortosa, picturesque towns dot the green paddocks, including Miravet which is on the banks of the river and sports a very impressive castle. One of Spain’s most important defensive structures, the Miravet Castle contains both Moorish and Christian elements, and has been occupied by many different forces, including the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The castle closes at 5:30pm on weekends during spring, so after a hike in the mountains and a long lunch in town, we just had enough time to appreciate the glory of the old fort. There is even a (very narrow) spiral staircase that takes you right to the top.

The view from the top of the Miravet Castle.

I’m know there are at least 10,000 other things to see and do in this region, and that this is just a taste. If you are a mad cyclist you could possibly explore these suggestions on your own steam, but if you are a mere mortal you most definitely need a car to get to these places. This is especially the case on the weekend when most of the public buses do not run, although perhaps that will change in summer. Thanks for the adventures mis padres!

The week we were hop ons

After five months here, it feels as though we are finally finding our feet. My job is starting to feel like mine, not something that I am pretending to do until someone catches me out (classic imposter syndrome). Our apartment seems more like home that is has before.

And we are even making friends! In the past week we’ve been lucky enough to hop on some fun adventures with kind friends and colleagues generous enough to share their part of the world with us.

Exploring with locals has been a great way to learn Spanish (and help with English), and see things that we would have definitely missed bumbling along on our own.

So here are some pictures of wonderful local things that we have been fortunate enough to see in the last week or so.


Background: my workplace. Foreground: the makings of a fair! The Ebre Fira is this weekend, and the grounds around campus are filled with carnival rides and game. In this one, I think kids can try their hands/bottoms at bull-riding.


Incredible home-cooked arroz (not quite paella, but pretty close!) made by a friend from work in their incredible campo, or country house. Four kinds of seafood and freshly made stock. Did I mention it was incredible?

Castell con Castell.

A castell in front of a castello in l’Ametlla del Mar, as part of a Sant Jordi fiesta last weekend. Not captured in this photograph: the beach in the background, the gralla band playing music to build the tension as the castellers build their castell;  a BBQ area where fresh sardines were being cooked for breakfast! 1€ for a plate of salty, delicious fish, and a swing of wine.

I once had a love, and it was a gas…

El Toll del Vidre (Pool of Glass, I think) near Arnes, about an hour from Tortosa. Bit icy on the toes, but we will definitely be back in summer.

Double sun.

Sunset in Tortosa after a terrific storm. The sun was actually setting behind us, but the cloud opposite caught some last rays of the day, making it look like there were two sunsets going on. Next month there will be more science on this blog, I promise…